Placebos – Is it all in the mind? – A comparison essay

Scientists have known for a long time that the mind plays a role in the process of medicinal treatment. They found that the psychosocial context of a treatment is central in the strength of the placebo effect, but the underlying neurological basis for this psychological phenomenon has only recently gained momentum in the field as a topic worthy of studying. This paper will discuss the experimental procedures and results of two independent experiments, and then examine how effective these experiments are in answering the broad question of “What factors create the placebo effect?”

In the first study, Benedetti et al. (2005) recruited 28 patients diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer ’s disease (AD) and 16 healthy participants matched for sex and age as controls. Participants went into the lab for two blood tests on two consecutive days. In the open condition, participants were given lidocaine, a local anesthetic, applied at the location of the skin region where the needle was inserted. They were able to see the anesthetic applied, and they were told that the pain should subside in a few minutes. Participants in the hidden condition were not told they were given any lidocaine; the lidocaine was secretly applied on tape that was adhered to the punctured skin. They were not told that the pain was to subside. Participants in both conditions were then asked to rate their pain according to a numerical rating scale (NRS). The researchers recorded the participants’ electrocardiogram (ECG) and electroencephalogram (EEG) while they had their blood drawn. The conditions are switched the second day they go into the lab for a blood test. All participants then came back into the lab one year later and repeated all the procedures.

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